BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- The rock-star CMO is dead, but the post-rock-star CMO is quietly living pretty large.
The era of the high-profile, big-personality, high-production-value chief marketing officer -- which was already going wobbly as the recession began -- has ended definitively with the departures in the past year of the likes of Unilever's Simon Clift and Kodak's Jeff Hayzlett.
Yet the less-ostentatious personalities that increasingly populate CMO slots have something their rock-star forbears lacked: power. They may not be masters of the universe like the CEOs to whom they report, but they're increasingly getting a seat at the board table alongside them. They're also getting broader control over the entire communications mix and more tangible responsibilities that come with media budgets attached in addition to their former corporate staff duties.
And so, while presentations at marketing confabs may be getting a little -- some might say a lot -- duller, CMOs can walk with a bit more swagger inside their corporate empires.
Nowhere was the shift from the rock-star to the post-rock-star era more evident than at the International Advertising Festival in Cannes last month. Not so long ago, former Procter & Gamble Co. Global Marketing Officer Jim Stengel, along with WPP's Bridge Worldwide, held a "Burning Question" seminar that featured Parkour acrobats from California and a high-energy video of 11 CMOs and CEOs -- and a cameo from P&G Chairman-CEO Bob McDonald.
Far lower-key was the presentation by Mr. Stengel's successor, Marc Pritchard. His entourage of around 20 was well down from the heights of P&G delegations from the prior regime, when Mr. Stengel once considered but rejected as too ostentatious the idea of putting the P&Gers up on a yacht in the harbor (which actually would have been cheaper than pricey hotels). Where Mr. Stengel usually brought along a production crew, Mr. Pritchard, an finance manager-turned-marketer, relied on Flip video from a lone external-relations executive.
For Kimberly-Clark Corp.'s maiden journey to Cannes, Chief Marketing Officer Tony Palmer didn't come at all. He deferred to a line manager, Andrew Meurer, VP-feminine, adult and senior care, to talk about Kotex ads alongside Omnicom digital agency Organic.
If ever someone were cut out for CMO rock stardom, it's Mr. Palmer. The good-looking and affable Australian has a Jerry Bruckheimer backstory that includes having a boyhood pet kangaroo and doing time as an outback miner and Australian-rules football player prior to his marketing career. But he's assiduously avoided anything resembling a cult of personality.
"If this is going to be about me," he said in an early interview for a personality profile, "then let's just stop now."
Also conspicuously absent from Cannes was Simon Clift, who as CMO presided over the work that earned Unilever Advertiser of the Year honors this year. But he exited in April, and the role went to Keith Weed, who so far hasn't exhibited Mr. Clift's knack for irreverent and outrageous comments; once at Cannes he famously called Mr. Stengel "a bigger media whore than Madonna" when the latter was preparing to collect his award.
Demure they may be, it's clear that post-rock-star CMOs are expanding their power and leading significant change, even if they're less visible to the outside world.
Mr. Pritchard is no longer just global marketing officer, he's global brand-building officer with duties that also include overseeing PR (once handled by a corporate peer in Charlotte Otto) design (once handled by chief design officers who reported directly to the CEO), and market research (which was once a direct report to the chief technology officer).
He doesn't just chat up the success of P&G's "Thank You Mom" multibrand marketing efforts. He also gets to lead them, essentially as brand manager.
P&G's long-talked-about move to digital media became far more widely practiced by Mr. Pritchard's second year on the job, with a doubling in measured spending and numerous expansions of digital agency assignments. And P&G's long-piloted new agency management and compensation system within the past year has expanded to brands covering around 80% of sales.
Asked whether he's a rock star, Mr. Pritchard laughed and said, "For me, I have a fairly simple personal purpose, which is to be useful. I just want to make sure that I'm useful to the people I'm serving and the organizations I serve."
He acknowledges that his responsibilities have broadened in the past two years, adding, in what might as well be a page ripped from the post-rock-star handbook of all the right things to say: "I can't take credit for anything. But it's the collective team that I work with."
Mr. Weed, a bit more ebullient publicly than Mr. Pritchard, is nonetheless far from the quote machine his predecessor was. And yet he's also added almost instantly to the power and prestige of his office, getting at the outset full communications oversight much like Mr. Pritchard and -- unprecedented for a Unilever CMO -- a seat on the company's executive board alongside top category and regional leaders and the chief financial officer.
Asked if he's a rock star, Mr. Weed said: "I'm an employee of Unilever just like everyone else, and like everyone else I just want to do a good job. ... I can see how [being a rock star] would be a distraction."
Even so, Mr. Weed did, within his first 60 days on the job, lead a delegation of Unilever's top global line managers on a fact-finding, deal-making trip to Silicon Valley and, like Mr. Pritchard, leads corporate branding efforts now being tested in the U.K., Netherlands and Brazil on the way to a global rollout.
And Mr. Palmer, while he may prefer to stand in the background behind the company's general managers, has also as K-C's first CMO gone beyond the normal scope of the job to play an active role in recruiting them, as was the case with bringing Mr. Meurer in from P&G.
Jim Mead, a Connecticut recruiter who brought both Mr. Palmer and Mr. Meurer to K-C, said the new generation of CMOs generally isn't seen as candidates to become CEO. That may actually make them more effective, he said, since they're not perceived as rivals to the general managers whom they must influence to be effective. He likened the modern CMO to a Rahm Emanuel-style chief of staff who is powerful and useful yet not a likely successor to the chief -- not that he suggests CMOs adopt the same colorful language or habit of naked confrontation.
But other recruiters disagree with the notion that modern CMOs, even if they're less flamboyant or high profile, are less likely to become CEOs than in the past. Among exceptions, or potential exceptions, are former McDonald's CMO Mary Dillon, who became a CEO, even if it meant leaving for U.S. Cellular, or Ford's sales and marketing chief Jim Farley, seen by some as a possible CEO successor.
But nearly all agree that post-rock-star CMOs are now far more prevalent, successful and powerful than their predecessors. "These guys have a seat at the [executive] table now, or at least 80% of them," said Bruce Roberston, managing partner at recruiting firm RSR Partners, noting that they're increasingly getting duties overseeing all communications because there's no logical way of separating out the paid from the unpaid or the traditional from the nontraditional anymore.
While the current crop of CMOs may be less visible to the outside world, they're often more visible inside companies and to key constituencies such as investors, he said. Mr. Robertson said he heard just last week from a CEO of a consumer-products company who'd gotten rave reviews of a CMO passed on from major investors he'd met recently.
Sometimes, as appears to be the case with Kodak's Mr. Hayzlett, rock stars are personalities simply too large to be contained within one company. Last year's high-volume celebrity on the marketing forum circuit now lists himself as "change agent, author, leader, South Dakotan and sometime cowboy," who's been a judge on "Celebrity Apprentice" and has been in talks to develop a TV show of his own.
Julie Roehm, who managed to be a rock star without actually being a CMO (she also had, briefly, a TV gig for a never-aired show called "Jingles"), is perhaps the classic case of rock stardom gone awry. Aside from the many other facts and allegations surrounding her much-chronicled departure from Walmart, the retailer's former VP-advertising rubbed many around the Bentonville headquarters the wrong way with her high-profile approach. She, and the former CMO she reported to, later Chief Merchandising Officer John Fleming, are both out of the company now (Mr. Fleming as of Aug. 1). And the current CMO who has outlasted them both, Stephen Quinn, is a lower-profile personality than either was.
Clearly perceived rock stars have sometimes rankled other managers. Mr. Stengel, while he led a rebound in P&G's marketing image and oversaw a period of record top-line growth for the company, was also known by some within the company as "the 13th billion-dollar brand."
"There's always going to be some jealousy," Mr. Stengel said. "But I think, Was my relationship with my team strong? It was fabulous the whole time. My relationship with [CEOs Bob McDonald and A.G. Lafley] was great. My relationship with the [Global Leadership Council of top managers] was great. For the people who mattered, I'd say there was a tremendous amount of support, and we got a lot done."
Part of the broader change in CMO style may simply be a function of the times, Mr. Stengel said. "It's difficult to separate the recession out of this," he said. "It just had chief marketing officers in all kinds of companies doing different work and focusing more internally maybe than externally. A lot of people have been cutting head count and refining organizations and evaluating work processes."
Mr. Stengel noted that he had a somewhat different brief when he took P&G's top marketing job in 2001. "It was kind of a perfect storm," he said. "P&G was in crisis. The business was bad. Morale was down. ... You had a new CEO. The [Association of National Advertisers] was in trouble, and it wasn't that far from going out of business."
That being the case, both P&G and some of the marketing organizations needed a dose of confidence and excitement that the Jim Stengels of the marketing world looked to deliver. And he believes that as more companies focus on "a growth agenda" in the future, higher public profiles may once again come back in fashion for CMOs.